Buddhist Wizards, Breath Meditation, and Superpowers


Preached by the Buddha, prescribed by psychologists, and practiced by people from all faiths and walks of life, breath meditation is one of the most popular meditation practices to have emerged from Buddhism. In this video we will look at how people in the country of Myanmar practice breath meditation and how some, known as “wizards,” use the breath to gain supernatural powers.

Questions for reflection

When you hear the words “Buddhist breath meditation” what are some images that come to mind?  

Are you comfortable with the fact that some Buddhists meditate to get superpowers?  

How can the attainment and use of superpowers be considered “religious” (in whatever sense of the word you understand it)? What religious figures throughout history are believed to have had superpowers?

Further reading

Braun, Erik. The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 

Patton, Thomas. The Buddha’s Wizards: Magic, Healing and Protection in Burmese Buddhism. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2018.  

Pranke, Patrick. “On Saints and Wizards: Ideals of Human Perfection and Power in Contemporary Burmese Buddhism.” The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 2010/11.

Thomas Patton is an associate professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies at City University of Hong Kong. His teaching and research is attentive to religion in Southeast Asia, particularly focusing on historical and ethnographic interests engaging Buddhist phenomena in relation to Burmese cultural contexts, issues of gender and class, and politics. His current research is on lived religion in Myanmar, specifically examining local cults of saints and peoples’ relationships with them, shrines, miracles, and other manifestations of religious devotion.